Chapter 3

פרק ג

Though fasting is not at all necessary for attaining atonement, it was explained above that nevertheless, it has a salutary effect as a substitute for the olah offering. In Temple times, this sacrifice was offered (even) for transgressing a positive command in order to make the former offender once again acceptable and beloved of G‑d. Accordingly, the Arizal derived from the Kabbalah the number of fasts to be undertaken for numerous transgressions, even those that are not subject to the punishment of excision or death by Divine decree.

The latter Mussar sages—those who lived after the Arizal—were divided in their opinions about one who repeated a sin many times.

וְהִנֵּה, חַכְמֵי הַמּוּסָר הָאַחֲרוֹנִים נֶחְלְקוּ בְּמִי שֶׁחָטָא חֵטְא אֶחָד פְּעָמִים רַבּוֹת;

Some contend that he must fast the number of fasts appropriate to that sin according to the number of transgressions.

דְּיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים, שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לְהִתְעַנּוֹת מִסְפַּר הַצּוֹמוֹת לְאוֹתוֹ חֵטְא פְּעָמִים רַבּוֹת כְּפִי הַמִּסְפָּר אֲשֶׁר חָטָא;

For example, the number of fasts prescribed in the penances of the Arizal for wasteful emission of semen is eighty-four.

כְּגוֹן הַמּוֹצִיא זֶרַע לְבַטָּלָה, שֶׁמִּסְפַּר הַצּוֹמוֹת הַמְפוֹרָשׁ בְּתִיקּוּנֵי תְּשׁוּבָה מֵהָאֲרִיזַ"ל הֵן פ"ד תַּעֲנִיּוֹת,

If someone commits this sin ten or twenty times, say, he must fast ten or twenty times eighty-four, and so on in all instances.

וְאִם חָטָא בָּזֶה עֶשֶׂר אוֹ עֶשְׂרִים פְּעָמִים, עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל – צָרִיךְ לְהִתְעַנוֹת עֶשֶׂר אוֹ עֶשְׂרִים פְּעָמִים פ"ד, וְכֵן לְעוֹלָם,

This is comparable to the chatat offering (Note by the Rebbe: “i.e., all the chatat offerings”) required for every instance of violation.

דּוּמְיָא דְּקָרְבַּן חַטָּאת, שֶׁחַיָּיב לְהָבִיא עַל כָּל פַּעַם וּפַעַם;

Others compare these fasts to the olah offering brought for neglect of a positive command.1

וְיֵשׁ מְדַמִּין עִנְיָן זֶה לְקָרְבַּן עוֹלָה הַבָּאָה עַל מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה,

The violation of a number of positive commands is atoned for, and the individual finds favor in G‑d’s eyes by one olah, as the Talmud explains in Tractate Zevachim, ch. 1.2

דַּאֲפִילוּ עָבַר עַל כַּמָּה מִצְוֹת עֲשֵׂה – מִתְכַּפֵּר בְּעוֹלָה אַחַת, כִּדְאִיתָא בַּגְּמָרָא פֶּרֶק קַמָּא דִזְבָחִים.

The accepted decision in this dispute is to undertake three times the number of fasts prescribed for that particular sin, i.e., 252 fasts (three times eighty-four) for wasteful emission and similarly for other sins oft repeated.

וְהַכְרָעָה הַמְקוּבֶּלֶת בָּזֶה, לְהִתְעַנּוֹת ג' פְּעָמִים כְּפִי מִסְפַּר הַצּוֹמוֹת דְּחֵטְא זֶה, דְּהַיְינוּ, רנ"ב צוֹמוֹת עַל הוֹצָאוֹת שִׁכְבַת זֶרַע לְבַטָּלָה, וְכֵן בִּשְׁאָר חֲטָאִים וַעֲוֹנוֹת.

This is based on a teaching in the Zohar, at the end of Parashat Noach3: “As soon as mortal man sins once against the Holy One, blessed be He, he makes an impression [Above; should he sin a second time, the impact of his sin is even greater];

וְהַטַּעַם הוּא, עַל פִּי מַה שֶּׁכָּתוּב בַּזּוֹהַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ סוֹף פָּרָשַׁת נֹחַ: "כֵּיוָן דְּחָב בַּר נַשׁ קַמֵּי קוּדְשָׁא־בְּרִיךְ־הוּא זִמְנָא חֲדָא עָבִיד רְשִׁימוּ כוּ',

the third time he commits the sin, the stain penetrates from one side through the other…”;

זִמְנָא תְּלִיתָאָה אִתְפַּשֵּׁט הַהוּא כִּתְמָא מִסִּטְרָא דָא לְסִטְרָא דָא כוּ'".

therefore, the number of fasts ought also be three.

לְכָךְ – צָרִיךְ מִסְפַּר הַצּוֹמוֹת גַּם כֵּן ג' פְּעָמִים וְכוּ'.

However, all this4 applies to the strong and robust, whose physical health would not be harmed at all by repeated fasts, as in the generations of yore.

אָכֵן, כָּל זֶה בְּאָדָם חָזָק וּבָרִיא, שֶׁאֵין רִיבּוּי הַצּוֹמוֹת מַזִּיק לוֹ כְּלָל לִבְרִיאוּת גּוּפוֹ, וּכְמוֹ בַּדּוֹרוֹת הָרִאשׁוֹנִים.

But whoever would be affected by many fasts and might thereby suffer illness or pain, G‑d forbid, as in contemporary generations,

אֲבָל מִי שֶׁרִיבּוּי הַצּוֹמוֹת מַזִּיק לוֹ, שֶׁאֶפְשָׁר שֶׁיּוּכַל לָבֹא לִידֵי חוֹלִי אוֹ מֵיחוֹשׁ חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, כְּמוֹ בְּדוֹרוֹתֵינוּ אֵלֶּה,

is forbidden to undertake numerous fasts, even for sins punishable by excision or execution, and certainly not for [violation of] the positive and prohibitive commands that do not involve excision.

אָסוּר לוֹ לְהַרְבּוֹת בְּתַעֲנִיּוֹת אֲפִילוּ עַל כְּרֵיתוֹת וּמִיתוֹת בֵּית־דִּין, וּמִכָּל שֶׁכֵּן עַל מִצְוֹת עֲשֵׂה וּמִצְוֹת לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה שֶׁאֵין בָּהֶן כָּרֵת,

Instead, [the measure of fasting is] the personal estimate of what will not harm him at all.

אֶלָּא כְּפִי אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁעֵר בְּנַפְשׁוֹ שֶׁבְּוַדַּאי לֹא יַזִּיק לוֹ כְּלָל.

For even in those early generations, in the times of the Tannaim and Amoraim, only the robust who could mortify themselves fasted so frequently.

כִּי אֲפִילוּ בַּדּוֹרוֹת הָרִאשׁוֹנִים, בִּימֵי תַּנָּאִים וְאַמוֹרָאִים – לֹא הָיוּ מִתְעַנִּין בִּכְהַאי גַּוְנָא, אֶלָּא הַבְּרִיאִים, דְּמָצוּ לְצַעוּרֵי נַפְשַׁיְיהוּ;

But whoever cannot fast yet does so is called a “sinner” in Tractate Taanit, ch. 1.5

וּדְלָא מָצִי לְצַעוּרֵי נַפְשֵׁיהּ וּמִתְעַנֶּה – נִקְרָא "חוֹטֵא" בַּגְּמָרָא פֶּרֶק קַמָּא דְתַעֲנִית,

This applies even to one who fasts for specifically known sins, as Rashi explains there,

וַאֲפִילוּ מִתְעַנֶּה עַל עֲבֵירוֹת שֶׁבְּיָדוֹ כִּדְפֵירֵשׁ רַשִׁ"י שָׁם,

The very same author of the opinion that he who fasts frequently is considered “holy” because (as Rashi explains) his sins are thereby expunged goes on to state that he is considered a sinner if he cannot fast yet does so.

and it is written in Tractate Zevachim, ch. 1,6 that “there is no one of Israel who is not guilty of [transgressing] a positive commandment…,”

וְכִדְאִיתָא בַּגְּמָרָא פֶּרֶק קַמָּא דִזְבָחִים, שֶׁאֵין לְךָ אָדָם מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁאֵינוֹ מְחוּיָּיב עֲשֵׂה וְכוּ'.

Thus, though there are always sins for which one should fast, one should do so only if this will in no way impair his health; otherwise, he is considered a sinner,

especially if he is a student of the Torah, in which case he is doubly punished,

וּמִכָּל שֶׁכֵּן מִי שֶׁהוּא בַּעַל תּוֹרָה, שֶׁחוֹטֵא וְנֶעֱנָשׁ בְּכִפְלַיִים,

for the weakness resulting from his fast prevents him from studying Torah properly.

כִּי מֵחֲמַת חֲלִישׁוּת הַתַּעֲנִית לֹא יוּכַל לַעֲסוֹק בָּהּ כָּרָאוּי.

What, then, is his remedy?

אֶלָּא מַאי תַּקַּנְתֵּיהּ?

I.e., what is such a person to do in order to be beloved by his Creator as he was before his sin?

He should comply with the verse that says, “Redeem your sin with charity.”7

כְּדִכְתִיב: "וַחֲטָאָךְ בְּצִדְקָה פְרוּק";

And, indeed, the codifiers of Torah law specified that one should donate the equivalent of eighteen [large Polish] coins called “gedolim Polish” for each day of repentance.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתְבוּ הַפּוֹסְקִים, לִיתֵּן בְּעַד כָּל יוֹם תַּעֲנִית שֶׁל תְּשׁוּבָה – עֵרֶךְ ח"י גְּדוֹלִים פּוֹלִישׁ וְכוּ',

The wealthy should add to this amount for the redemption of each fast day according to his means,

וְהֶעָשִׁיר יוֹסִיף לְפִי עָשְׁרוֹ וְכוּ',

as stated in Magen Avraham in the Laws of Fasts.8

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתַב הַמָּגֵן־אַבְרָהָם הִלְכוֹת תַּעֲנִית:

Nevertheless, though it has just been stated that in contemporary generations, when excessive fasting causes illness and pain, the fasts of penance should be substituted by charity, every man of spirit who desires to be close to G‑d, to amend his nefesh9 (his soul), to restore it to G‑d with the finest and most preferred repentance, should be stringent with himself.

וּמִכָּל מָקוֹם, כָּל בַּעַל נֶפֶשׁ הֶחָפֵץ קִרְבַת ה', לְתַקֵּן נַפְשׁוֹ לַהֲשִׁיבָהּ אֶל ה' בִּתְשׁוּבָה מְעוּלָּה מִן הַמּוּבְחָר – יַחְמִיר עַל עַצְמוֹ

He should complete, at least once during his lifetime, the number of fasts for every grave sin incurring death at least, if only death by Divine agency.

לְהַשְׁלִים עַל כָּל פָּנִים פַּעַם אַחַת כָּל יְמֵי חַיָּיו מִסְפַּר הַצּוֹמוֹת לְכָל עָוֹן וְעָוֹן מֵעֲוֹנוֹת הַחֲמוּרִים שֶׁחַיָּיבִין עֲלֵיהֶם מִיתָה עַל כָּל פָּנִים, וַאֲפִילוּ בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם בִּלְבַד,

For example, for wasteful emission, [he should undergo the series of] eighty-four fasts once in his life.

כְּגוֹן לְהוֹצָאוֹת זֶרַע לְבַטָּלָה פ"ד צוֹמוֹת פַּעַם אַחַת בִּימֵי חַיָּיו.

He may postpone the fasts until the short winter days and fast some ten days or less, for example, in one winter,

וְיָכוֹל לִדְחוֹתָן לַיָּמִים הַקְּצָרִים בַּחוֹרֶף, וְיִתְעַנֶּה כְּעֶשֶׂר תַּעֲנִיּוֹת עַל דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל בְּחוֹרֶף אֶחָד, אוֹ פָּחוֹת,

and complete the series of eighty-four in nine or more years, according to his stamina.

וְיִגְמוֹר מִסְפַּר הַפ"ד צוֹמוֹת בְּט' שָׁנִים, אוֹ יוֹתֵר – כְּפִי כֹחוֹ

(10Besides, he may also eat a little [until] about three hours before sunrise, and this would still be considered a fast, if he so stipulated.)

(וְגַם, יָכוֹל לֶאֱכוֹל מְעַט כְּג' שָׁעוֹת לִפְנֵי נֵץ הַחַמָּה, וְאַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן נֶחְשָׁב לְתַעֲנִית אִם הִתְנָה כֵּן).

For the completion of the abovementioned 252 fasts—three times eighty-four, this being the accepted arbitration in the above difference of opinion so that one undertakes three times the number of fasts prescribed for this specific sin, even if it was committed many times—he may fast another four times eighty-four only until past noon;

וּלְתַשְׁלוּם רנ"ב צוֹמוֹת כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל – יִתְעַנֶּה עוֹד ד' פְּעָמִים פ"ד עַד אַחַר חֲצוֹת הַיּוֹם בִּלְבַד,

this, too, the Jerusalem Talmud11 considers a fast. In this context, moreover, two half-days are reckoned as one full day.

דְּמִיחְשַׁב גַּם כֵּן תַּעֲנִית בִּירוּשַׁלְמִי, וּב' חֲצָאֵי יוֹם נֶחְשָׁבִים לוֹ לְיוֹם אֶחָד לְעִנְיָן זֶה.

This approach applies to other, similar sins as well,

וְכֵן לִשְׁאָר עֲוֹנוֹת כַּיּוֹצֵא בָהֶן,

Until now, the Alter Rebbe addressed himself to those sins which at least incur death by Divine agency. The Alter Rebbe now goes on to say that this approach also applies to sins which do not incur such a harsh penalty but are similarly grave—“similar sins”—such as those which are actually comparable to idolatry, murder, and so on, as mentioned in ch. 7 below. Concerning these sins as well, the Alter Rebbe is saying here, one should be stringent and undertake the required number of fasts at least once in his lifetime.

for each heart knows its own anguish and desires its vindication.

אֲשֶׁר כָּל "לֵב יוֹדֵעַ מָרַת נַפְשׁוֹ", וְחָפֵץ בְּהִצָּדְקָהּ.

This vindication is enhanced by fasting.

However, there still remain the fasts in excess of (for example) the 252, i.e., whatever number exceeds three times the prescribed number of fasts for any particular sin,

אָכֵן, מִסְפַּר הַצּוֹמוֹת הָעוֹדְפִים עַל רנ"ב וּכְהַאי גַּוְנָא,

that one ought to fast in deference to the more stringent opinion insisting on the appropriate number of fasts for every violation committed, as noted above.

שֶׁהָיָה צָרִיךְ לְהִתְעַנּוֹת, לָחוּשׁ לְדַעַת הַמַּחְמִירִים לְהִתְעַנּוֹת מִסְפַּר הַצּוֹמוֹת שֶׁעַל כָּל חֵטְא וְחֵטְא כְּפִי מִסְפַּר הַפְּעָמִים שֶׁחָטָא כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל,

He may redeem them all by charity to the value of eighteen “gedolim Polish” for each fast day.

יִפְדֶּה כוּלָּן בִּצְדָקָה עֵרֶךְ ח"י גְּדוֹלִים פּוֹלִישׁ בְּעַד כָּל יוֹם.

So, too, [charity may redeem] all other fasts that he should have undergone for sins not entailing death,

וְכֵן שְׁאָר כָּל תַּעֲנִיּוֹת שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לְהִתְעַנּוֹת עַל עֲבֵירוֹת שֶׁאֵין בָּהֶן מִיתָה,

and even for neglecting a positive command, whether explicit in the Torah or Rabbinically ordained,

וַאֲפִילוּ עַל בִּיטּוּל מִצְוֹת עֲשֵׂה דְּאוֹרַיְיתָא וּדְרַבָּנָן,

and for [neglect of the positive command of] “Torah study, which is equivalent to them all,”12

וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֶגֶד כּוּלָּם,

according to the number of fasts prescribed by the penances of the Arizal. (13Most of these are noted in Mishnat Chassidim, Tractate Teshuvah.)

כְּפִי הַמִּסְפָּר הַמְפוֹרָשׁ בְּתִיקּוּנֵי הַתְּשׁוּבָה מֵהָאֲרִ"י זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה (וְרוּבָּם נִזְכָּרִים בְּ"מִשְׁנַת חֲסִידִים" בְּמַסֶּכֶת הַתְּשׁוּבָה) –

All of these fasts, then, he may redeem as explained above, if he cannot mortify himself as explained above.

הַכֹּל כַּאֲשֶׁר לַכֹּל, יִפְדֶּה בִּצְדָקָה כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל, אִי לָא מָצִי לְצַעוּרֵי נַפְשֵׁיהּ כַּנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל.

Though this might amount to a very considerable sum, he need not fear violating the injunction that “one should not extravagantly distribute more than one-fifth [of one’s property to charity],”14

וְאַף שֶׁיַּעֲלֶה לְסַךְ מְסוּיָּים, אֵין לָחוּשׁ מִשּׁוּם "אַל יְבַזְבֵּז יוֹתֵר מֵחוֹמֶשׁ",

for this kind of giving cannot be termed “extravagant distribution” since he does it to redeem himself from fasting and affliction.

דְּלָא מִקְרֵי בִּזְבּוּז בִּכְהַאי גַּוְנָא, מֵאַחַר שֶׁעוֹשֶׂה לִפְדּוֹת נַפְשׁוֹ מִתַּעֲנִיּוֹת וְסִיגּוּפִים.

This is no less necessary than healing his body or his other needs, in which one does not restrict one’s spending to a fifth of his means.

וְלָא גָרְעָא מֵרְפוּאַת הַגּוּף וּשְׁאָר צְרָכָיו.

Since the number of fasts enumerated in the abovementioned penances of the Arizal is exceedingly great,

וּלְפִי שֶׁמִּסְפַּר הַצּוֹמוֹת הַמּוּזְכָּרִים בְּתִקּוּנֵי תְּשׁוּבָה הַנִּזְכָּרִים לְעֵיל רַבּוּ בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד,

all who revere the word of G‑d are now accustomed to being unstintingly generous with charity, which is given in place of fasting,

לָכֵן נָהֲגוּ עַכְשָׁיו כָּל הַחֲרֵדִים לִדְבַר ה', לְהַרְבּוֹת מְאֹד מְאֹד בִּצְדָקָה,

for the prevalent lack of stamina prevents them from mortifying themselves to this extent.

מֵחֲמַת חֲלִישׁוּת הַדּוֹר, דְּלָא מָצוּ לְצַעוּרֵי נַפְשָׁם כּוּלֵּי הַאי

(15A comment is made elsewhere on this subject on the words, “The kindnesses of G‑d, for they are not concluded.”16)

(וּכְמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר עַל פָּסוּק: "חַסְדֵי ה' כִּי לֹא תָמְנוּ"):

The last three Hebrew words, here translated “for they are not concluded,” may also be interpreted to mean “for we are not perfect.” Accordingly, in Epistle 10 of Iggeret Hakodesh, the Alter Rebbe explains the verse thus: Since “we are not perfect,” burdened as we are by sins that plead for rectification, we are in need of G‑d’s infinite kindness and charity. And in order to elicit kindness and pardon of an infinite order, man, for his part, must exceed the conventional, finite bounds of charity.